WordPress frameworks: the easy way to get your ideal theme

As a content management system, WordPress’s main strength is its seemingly endless supply of extensions. In addition to the thousands of plugins that can be used to create functions, there are just as many premade design templates, which make setting up your web presence child’s play. These templates, better known as WordPress themes, can be used to implement optical and functional elements, even if the user has little or no experience in programming. With just a few clicks, you can download, install, and activate your chosen theme.

While many themes are free, there are also many premium designs subject to a fee. Both kinds can be easily implemented with no previous experience. WordPress theme frameworks, which can also form the basis of layout templates, help to make the task of web design much easier and often prove themselves to be superior to themes in other areas.

The benefits of developing your own WordPress theme

WordPress’s large array of theme options is one of the platform’s most important and popular features – and for good reason: Thanks to the multifaceted templates’ ability to separate layout and content, one can easily be edited or replaced without affecting the other. Themes also simplify the task of operating a content management system for inexperienced users, as they are quick to install and intuitive to operate. Users can visually alter their own website with design templates and fill their page with various content without having to do any coding of their own. Furthermore, most of the themes are easy to customise, for example, users can choose an alternative font or background colour to make their web presence more unique.

But the use of ready-made themes is often linked to certain disadvantages: For example, if the website owner is using a theme that has been made available to the public, there is a strong chance that the are many other websites using that exact same theme. It’s therefore important to bear in mind that choosing a particularly popular theme could make your website look boring and unoriginal. While themes can be customised to a certain extent, it takes some coding knowledge to create a completely different look. In addition, there is no guarantee that the selected theme will be kept up to date. Gaps in security will put your website at risk.

Because of these disadvantages, it’s often a good idea as a website owner to develop your own theme, as long as you possess the required CSS, HTML, and PHP knowledge. Not only can you then take full advantage of the practical templates, you also have full control over adjusting the layout or security measures.

What is a WordPress theme framework?

If you want to develop a new WordPress theme, you have two options: You can either program your template from scratch without the aid of tools, or you can use the aforementioned WordPress theme frameworks. These basic frameworks are self-contained themes that include standard features and a basic design template. These basic functions can be used for a variety of purposes, such as general search engine optimisation techniques, and creating responsive content. Given that WordPress frameworks can also function as the basis for developing new themes, they are also known as ‘parent themes’. The templates based on them are therefore called ‘child themes’.

Child themes use the same code as the parent theme, so the developer doesn’t have to start from scratch; they can simply add functional and optical extensions for a more individual look. Certain WordPress theme providers, such as TeslaThemes, use their own frameworks, which serve as a basis for their themes, and must be downloaded to use the corresponding child themes.

Why use WordPress frameworks and child themes?

A theme based on a WordPress framework can offer users a great deal of advantages in comparison to normal themes: the biggest plus is their upgradeability. When using a standard template (without a child theme) all the manual changes, such as design adjustments, are lost – but remain when a framework is updated. Only with a child theme can developers make adjustments that are not overwritten when updating the parent theme. This feature is particularly beneficial when a security update is required. The separation of the core features from any manual changes also ensures that users can develop their web projects at any time without endangering the basic functionality.

Even if using a WordPress framework is much more work than a basic theme, it generally pays to put the work in. But whether you decide to develop your own layout template or use a ready-made theme, you will end up saving valuable time when programming and customising your page. However, before choosing a framework, it is worthwhile checking whether you need that framework’s basic functions. If the framework is too complex, it could be unsuitable for a simple homepage, which could potentially lead to problems in page performance.

What kinds of WordPress theme frameworks are there?

Frameworks facilitate both the development process and the managing of WordPress themes, which is the reason behind their ever-growing popularity. Some theme developers decide to charge for their frameworks, which enables you to:

  • Develop your own layout template, or
  • Use the provider’s child theme

The cost of these framework licences differs from one provider to the next, and the offers also vary with respect to the support services provided: while some developers ensure continual automatic updates along with the purchase of their licence, others only guarantee a one-year support subscription, which must then be extended. Some theme creators also offer special packages, which contain both the basic parent theme as well as appropriate child themes.

In addition, there are some free WordPress frameworks available to download. Typically, the parent theme code is available for free and at most you only need to pay for regular updates for the framework or for the developer’s child themes. Occasionally, providers will also offer a so-called freemium model. This means that users simply receive a limited version of the basic framework free of charge.

WordPress frameworks: the most interesting options at a glance

The enormous choice of themed WordPress frameworks can make looking for the right one a daunting task. Developers should particularly pay attention to the framework’s functions and the customisation options – as well as the key criterion: usability. Users looking for premade child themes don’t necessarily have it any easier: Randomly looking for the perfect template and choosing your key layout criteria can backfire if the linked framework doesn’t fit the project, requires too many resources, or is faulty.

Whether the WordPress framework is designed as a foundation for a self-designed theme or a commercially available one, it’s necessary to check the validity of the framework, the licence model, and the level of support on offer. Only then can you ensure the functionality and security of parent and child themes. Last but most certainly not least, the cost of a framework can play a pivotal role. An expensive framework usually only pays off if you want to create a very complex theme or a variety of different templates, or if you want to access several of the provider’s child themes.

To help find the right WordPress theme framework for you, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular and powerful frameworks.

Genesis: the performance oriented framework for small budgets

The Genesis theme framework is widely popular, not least for its low price. Beginners and pros alike benefit from the premium theme framework’s many functions. Among other things, you can use Genesis to easily create search engine-friendly and responsive WordPress theme frameworks, or use pre-made templates to change or create your own layouts.

Genesis’ great plus point, however, is its outstanding licence model: This WordPress framework is particularly impressive in comparison to many others due to its unlimited support. Users receive all updates, as well as detailed tutorials, and support for technical problems without having to renew the licence after a certain time. Premium members also receive any child theme (current and future) designed by the manufacturer. For more information on the StudioPress Framework, check out our guide here.

Advantages Disadvantages
Excellent blend of functionality and performance Creating a template is very complicated for beginners
Permanent licence  
Responsive  

Gantry: beginner-friendly and royalty-free

With Gantry, the developer RocketTheme has consolidated its standard set of Joomla and WordPress features in a simple and user-friendly framework. The user-friendly layout manager – which includes a re-store option and allows you to drag and drop items – makes it easy to get started. Thanks to the use of the front-end framework, Bootstrap, Gantry also has a responsive grid system that automatically adjusts your web project to the respective display size. However, if you want to create a more complex design, or customise the framework with unique colours, fonts, etc. you need to learn the required CSS and HTML. Gantry is available under an MIT licence, which means that it is free to download and use from the official Gantry website.

Advantages Disadvantages
Beginner-friendly Less suitable for complicated designs
Free of charge Access to the support forum for premium members only
Responsive  

Thesis: strong focus on search engine optimisation

With the Thesis WordPress framework, you can create themes using the three key components, ‘Boxes’, ‘Skins’, and ‘Site Tools’. ‘Boxes’ can be used to add various functions to your website, such as social media icons or contact forms, similar to widgets. Skins, meanwhile, allow you to customise the layout of your theme by adding a navigation menu, header, content boxes, etc. You can easily arrange all elements using the drag-and-drop function in the visual template editor. Another unique trait of the Thesis framework is that it places strong emphasis on search engine optimisation. The third component, ‘Site Tools’, comprises powerful SEO tools, which can be used to optimise your WordPress project’s search engine ranking. Find out more about the Thesis’ tools and licence model in our handy guide.

Advantages Disadvantages
Many SEO features already implemented Setting up can be long and complicated
Responsive  
Powerful performance  

Whiteboard: the open source framework

Launched in 2008, Whiteboard supports experienced programmers to develop new themes, with continuous optimisations being added over the years. Based on the Less framework, Whiteboard automatically generates responsive themes for all display sizes, as well as every popular browser. In addition, the theme framework supports HTML5 and various WordPress features and different widget areas. This WordPress framework is comparably straightforward, as it avoids an excessive range of functions and design options, choosing instead to concentrate on the core functions to keep the Framework adaptable and versatile for a wide variety of web projects. Since the last Whiteboard update was released quite some time ago, the free WordPress framework is not suitable for current versions of WordPress.

Advantages Disadvantages
Streamlined basic framework for themes Not available for current versions of WordPress
Responsive Not suitable for complex themes
Open source  

Headway: precise theme design

The Headway WordPress theme framework is known for its powerful editor, which makes arranging single elements child’s play thanks to its responsive grid system. This means that you can place text boxes, menu bars, and headers wherever you want without a hitch. And thanks to the Snapshots function, you can revise changes with just one click. Once you’re happy with the arrangement of the various elements, you can concentrate on choosing your ideal background, fonts, and effects in the separate design menu. One major disadvantage is that the licences, standard (which includes a child theme of your choice) and deluxe (which includes all available child themes) are only available for one year. It’s therefore necessary to renew the theme yourself. Get an overview of the complete feature pallet and the prices on the official Headway website.

Advantages Disadvantages
Clear, user-friendly editor Licence must be renewed every year
Responsive  
Ideal for landing pages  

The all-in-one solution: Divi

Divi is the basis of the Elegant themes. The core of this template, the Divi Builder, allows you to easily manage and use over 40 content modules. Thanks to the drag and drop feature, elements can be arranged freely according to your specifications. It’s also possible to change dimensions, backgrounds, colours, typography, and much more with just one click. The editor offers various slide controls and a preview for this purpose. The Divi interface is available in more than 30 languages and generates responsive themes only. It also features an integrated A/B testing feature, which can be used to test out different versions of your website. To use Divi, you can either have a one-year licence or a permanent one, which grants you access to all other themes by the provider.

Advantages Disadvantages
User-friendly layout builder No separation of basic functions and user adjustments
Integrated A/B testing feature Basis is not changeable
Responsive